Burning questions for the RAE panels

April 24, 2008

Your research assessment exercise report ("Panels ordered to shred all RAE records", 17 April) does not bring out the real problems sufficiently strongly. If notes must be destroyed after 20 days - to avoid being made public via Freedom of Information requests - it should be emphasised that notes can then play no role in final judgments of quality. There are several other rulings from the Higher Education Funding Council for England that I would guess panel members systematically ignore, such as that forbidding the transfer of outputs such as journal papers already in the public domain to the hard disks of laptops.

I have not canvassed fellow panel members for obvious reasons, but I am fairly sure that these and other rules are being widely ignored on the grounds that if Hefce wants this huge amount of work done virtually unpaid, there is no reason to tolerate pointless rules that make the task harder, if not impossible.

In addition, your estimates of the scale of work are low in the case of the subject I deal with: not 100 but 1,200 outputs. These are journal articles in the main. It would require at least two or three hours to read each of them properly. Simple arithmetic shows that that is two years' full-time work, while doing nothing else. The evasive notion of "examining" all outputs and reading 10 per cent (which some engineering subjects have adopted) may lead to situations where some panel members in desperation read nothing at all, on the grounds that the difference between 10 per cent and zero is nugatory and possibly discriminatory. Those individuals would make their judgments entirely on the 100 to 300-word author precis.

It is hard to imagine anything like this ever happening again, isn't it?

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